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This article was published 23/12/2019 (672 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It seems appropriate to start a review of Winnipeg’s 2019 arts and culture news with a city-wide retrospective 100 years in the making. The centenary of the Winnipeg General Strike inspired dozens of events and artistic projects this year.
A permanent reminder of the strike was installed at the corner of Main Street and Market Avenue in June. Bloody Saturday, an illuminated weathering steel sculpture designed by Noam Gonick and the late Bernie Miller, brought the famous 1919 strike image of a tilted streetcar back to life in the 21st century.
Of the installation, Gonick, a Winnipeg filmmaker and artist, told Free Press reporter Frances Koncan: "It’s the most intense thing that we have ever produced here... and it’s wonderful to have the statue where it is, where audiences going to concerts, shows and festivals can see it."
In May, Heritage Winnipeg dedicated its Doors Open Winnipeg programming to the uprising, with tours of buildings such as the Ukrainian Labour Temple and a "Solidarity Forever" parade and concert, featuring Sierra Noble, James Keelaghan and other artists.
Winnipeg writer, composer and producer Danny Schur had a big year — mounting a revamped version of Strike! The Musical, co-written by Rick Chafe, at Rainbow Stage in June; realizing his dream of turning the musical into a movie with the première of Stand! in November; and suffering a heart attack in between the two career highlights.
"I always joked that this movie almost killed me, and I wasn’t really serious," Schur said while recovering at home during an interview with the Free Press’s Randall King after the health scare.
Critically, the musical fared better than the movie, which King described in his review as generic and missing some key rabble-rousing songs.
Winnipeg music fans got stood up by high-profile acts on three separate occasions in 2019.
The trend started in April when Fleetwood Mac cancelled a show at Bell MTS Place because singer Stevie Nicks was battling the flu. In the same week, Morrissey backed out of a show at the Centennial Concert Hall due to a medical emergency. The final, and arguably the biggest, disappointment came when Cher cancelled her Winnipeg appearance an hour after the show started, leaving roughly 9,500 ticket holders shocked and frustrated. The 73-year-old pop star couldn’t perform because of a "sudden short-term illness," according to a tour representative.
"Honestly, of course a part of me is mad because of how far we travelled, price of gas and hotel, but in the end, the woman is in her 70s and her health obviously matters," concertgoer Courtney McLennan told Free Press music writer Erin Lebar.
While Fleetwood Mac and Morrissey both played makeup shows later in the year, Cher dropped her postponed Winnipeg show because of "scheduling difficulties."
It wasn’t all bad local music news, though.
The 2019 Winnipeg New Music Festival kicked off with an inventive outdoor concert in front of hundreds of well-chilled music lovers that featured Norwegian ice percussionist Terje Isungset and guest artists playing instruments made of ice.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse delivered "an evening of chaos-laden nostalgia" at the Burton Cummings Theatre in February, according to arts and life editor Alan Small, who gave the show four-and-a-half stars out of five. Young and company also played the Centennial Concert Hall the following evening.
Elton John captured five stars and got the entire sold-out crowd at Bell MTS Place singing along during the first of two back-to-back shows in October during the star’s final farewell tour.
The Winnipeg International Jazz Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary in June. Chicago hip-hop artist Common delivered an explosive, five-star set during the festival.
Also of note, city songstress Alexa Dirks, a.k.a. Begonia, released her first solo album, Fear, this fall. She promptly sold out four shows at the West End Cultural Centre scheduled for February 2020.
Visual art and museums
Local bike culture was taken to new heights this year when Ai Weiwei’s nine-foot-tall Forever Bicycles sculpture was erected at The Forks in September. The public art installation is made of 1,254 stainless-steel bicycles and will be on display in Winnipeg for at least the next two years. The sculpture arrived in four semi-truck trailers and took close to a week to install.
In May, the Winnipeg Art Gallery launched a major showcase of work by 20 contemporary Indian artists titled Vision Exchange: Perspectives From India to Canada. The exhibit, which inhabited roughly 6,000 square feet of gallery space, included a green, inflatable rendition of the Taj Mahal by Winnipeg artist Divya Mehra.
Kent Monkman’s exhibit Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience opened at the gallery in September, two years after its 2017 première as part of Canada 150.
The city’s history was given a permanent home in the Manitoba Museum in October with the opening of The Winnipeg Gallery, which occupies the first new exhibition space in the museum since 2003. Roland Sawatzky, the museum’s curator of history, focused on local people when selecting content for the gallery.
"That’s what makes history come alive for people, those personal connections, those personal stories," Sawatzky told Jen Zoratti.
Winnipeg’s arts community suffered a massive blow in July when a North End warehouse that served as a studio for artists, musicians and small business owners was destroyed by fire. Sound engineer Michael Wagner told Free Press reporter Nicholas Frew that he had lost approximately $75,000 worth of gear and several irreplaceable instruments in the blaze at 274 Jarvis St. Several crowdfunding pages were launched and benefit concerts were held in the wake of the disaster to help affected artists.
A pair of A-list celebrities made headlines when they visited Winnipeg this year.
Academy Award-winning actor Sean Penn was in town over the summer directing and acting in the movie Flag Day, which stars Katheryn Winnick (Bones) and Josh Brolin (Avengers: Endgame, No Country for Old Men). Hundreds showed up for the extras call for the film about a reporter coming to terms with the criminality of her father. It is expected to be released in 2020.
Julia Roberts got told to take a walk when she tried to get a table for brunch at the Falafel Place — a rite of passage for most Winnipeggers.
Roberts, the star of films like Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovich, came to town with her three children in June to visit her husband Daniel Moder, who was director of photography on Flag Day. The family stopped by the Falafel Place for brunch on Father’s Day but was turned away by owner Ami Hassan.
"I said, ‘Go for a walk for a half an hour and I’ll have a table for you,’" Hassan told the Free Press. "I did not know who they were... I think I’m the only guy in the world who told Julia Roberts to go for a walk."
Winnipeggers on Twitter were tickled when the city got a shout-out in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy earlier this year. In the May 1 airing of the show, doctors at the fictional Seattle hospital took a long-distance call about an organ donation from someone from "St. Boniface, Winnipeg."
Louis C.K. stirred up controversy on social media when it was announced that he would perform six shows at Rumor’s Restaurant and Comedy Club in September as part of a "starting over" tour. The American comedian has admitted to sexual misconduct from five women, and despite the online outrage, tickets sold out in hours.
After 85 years of musical political sketch comedy, Winnipeg’s BS Comedy Players took its final bow in June. The troupe got its start in 1934 at a regular event at the Winnipeg Press Club called Beer & Skits, where male journalists and politicians would satirize current events and each other. The torch was passed to a group of amateur actors in 2008 and this year the decision to call it quits was made — due to cost and declining volunteers.
"It’s very collaborative and it’s a huge time commitment," the company’s marketing director Corey Quintaine told Jill Wilson.
Over at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Lara Rae wrapped up her role as the event’s artistic director after 18 years. She co-founded the festival with actor Tom Anniko in 2002 and decided to step down to focus on creative endeavours.
Food and drinks
This year’s food news was marked by a major toss-up in Winnipeg’s pizza landscape.
Paradise Restaurant and Lounge closed the doors on its Portage Avenue location abruptly at the beginning of November after 40 years in business. The owners had previously announced they would be closing Nov. 3, but shuttered the business two days early — leaving customers with reservations without a final meal. Paradise’s Leila Avenue location remains open.
A week earlier, the Free Press’s Jill Wilson reported that venerable West Broadway pizza joint Bella Vista was under new ownership. Former 1958 café owner Ross Jeffers bought the business from Armand Colosimo, who opened the Italian restaurant with his uncle and brother in 1976. Jeffers says he plans to retain Bella Vista’s charm and core menu, but will bring in a new brunch and lunch menu.
"It’s the Bella Vista. Do I want to polish it up a little bit? Yeah. But do I want to nuke it? No way," Jeffers said.
In St. Boniface, the Norwood Hotel unveiled its dramatically renovated restaurant and pub, the Wood Tavern, and breakfast spot, Paulines Bistro.
Local vegans and vegetarians got a new place to eat out with the opening of Roughage Eatery on Sherbrook Street. The menu includes a charcuterie platter outfitted with nut cheeses and veg-friendly versions of meaty meals.
The Forks continued the overhaul of its gathering spaces with the opening of the Common patio this summer. The sprawling, open air hang-out spot between the Johnston Terminal and the Assiniboine River was something of an instant hit with Winnipeggers looking to soak up the sun next to a full-service bar.
The province’s first mead producers, Bee Boyzz Winery & Meadery, delivered their products to Winnipeg Liquor Marts and private wine stores in November. The Oak Bluff beekeeping business has specialized in making flavoured honey since the early 2000s and has expanded their offerings to honey-based wines.
Two local female authors were nationally recognized for their literary works in 2019.
Joan Thomas was awarded the 2019 Governor General’s English-language award for fiction for her fourth novel, Five Wives, in October. The award includes a $25,000 cash prize.
"I woke up this morning to my phone going crazy. I know there are a lot of people in Winnipeg who were cheering for me, and who are very happy, and that just deepens my joy about the whole thing," Thomas told Free Press books editor Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson following the announcement.
Five Wives is a fictionalized account of events leading up to the deaths of five Evangelical Christian missionaries in mid-1950s Ecuador.
University of Winnipeg English professor and author Jenny Heijun Wills took home the $60,000 Hilary Weston Prize for Non-Fiction for her debut memoir, Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. The book recounts Wills’ journey to reconnect with her biological Korean family after being adopted as an infant and raised in Canada by a white family.
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.